Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Local musicians to perform in 'Lamb of God'

Mineral Independent | March 27, 2024 12:00 AM

This March marks the sixth annual presentation of "Lamb of God." A sacred work created by composer Rob Gardner, it is accomplished by an all-volunteer, interfaith choir, soloists, orchestra and narrators, with seven musicians from Mineral County.

Previously "Lamb of God" had been hosted by St. Anthony’s Church, The St. Ignatius Mission Church and the First Presbyterian Church in Missoula. This year’s host will be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Bancroft Street in Missoula, on March 29 and 30 at 7 p.m.

“This is an Easter Oratorio that depicts the final period of the life of Jesus Christ, his death, and the resurrection story using passages of scripture and text reflective of what the people around him were experiencing during those events," said local director, music teacher and superintendent Derek Larson. "The text setting is powerful and some of the scenes are extremely moving when the orchestra, choir, and soloists are really dialed in.”

Larson recalled how he and his wife Shelly got involved in this annual Easter musical celebration. 

“Bev Czerwinski, a St. Regis Alumnus, I believe, was playing trombone in pep band with us at St. Regis a couple times and she had been recruited to play trombone in the orchestra that first year. When she came to play with us, she invited us to come and sing in the choir,” he remembered.

That first year he stated, “We showed up for our first rehearsal and I was pressed into service to cover the harp part on the piano, then to help the choir by playing the accompaniment during rehearsals and finally to play the choir parts on a keyboard with a speaker pointed backward at the choir to help them sing their parts during the performance.” 

The following years Larson directed full time.

Since Covid-19, the musical group has been operating on a slim number of singers. But this year Larson noted, “We're starting to gain some more voices in the choir. We do have some great soloists this year!”

They remain a little light on string players the past several performances and finding bassoon players or a tuba player has been challenging as well. 

“We do have three or four French Horn players this year, though, so that's awesome,” Larson said.

“We had Anita Bailey cover the oboe part on the pipe organ the year before last because we could not find an oboe player," he added. "We need at least 20 orchestra musicians spread across the parts and at least 30 singers spread across the parts to really make it work, but there are some key parts that are necessary to make it happen.”

Anita Bailey, from St. Regis, stays sharp on her various musical instruments when she isn’t busy selling real estate, or adventuring outdoors. This is her third year of participating in "Lamb of God." 

“Derek approached me the first year I participated," she shared. "He asked me if I would play the oboe part on the organ, since the orchestra didn't have an oboe player. The second year was to be same but, when I showed up to rehearsal, there was a real oboe player, so Derek asked me to play percussion.” 

That’s Bailey’s part this spring as well, playing percussion in the orchestra.

She exclaimed, “I'm honored to be able to participate in the production and work with so many talented musicians of different faiths who volunteer their time, many driving miles to attend rehearsals and performances. The music and narration is very moving and dramatic, and brings the Passion story to life. I think the performances will be well attended.”

Anita Bailey plays along with several other Mineral County residents including Matt Eisenbacher, also in the percussion section, Denley Loge on his faithful trombone, Shelly Larson is playing bass clarinet, Amber Winter is playing the clarinet, and Janice Hoskins is singing in the choir.

Loge, the House District 14 representative, rancher and trombonist, is very passionate about the "Lamb of God" performance. For numerous years he tried to make his busy schedule with spring ranching work, and his time in the legislature over in Helena, allow him to make practices for the Easter event. But time conflicts kept him from making it to rehearsals.

He stated, “The last two years I decided I would make it work, even being in Helena. 

Loge remembered, “Last year I made all the Saturday practices and for the three nights of performing, I skipped out on an hour of committee on Thursday to make that program. I drove back up to Helena that night for session the next day. As chairman for the Friday afternoon committee, I was able to schedule only one bill so I could make that trip back for the concert easily. I went home that night so Saturday night was an easy trip.” 

He was determined to be dedicated in both the state capitol and his musical interests.

This year will be his third year contributing, he had a desire to sing in the choir but was requested to bring his presence on the trombone. 

“I always enjoy playing music, all kinds, and don't get as many chances to play with groups as I would like," Loge said. "This is an absolutely incredible group of performers, instrumental and singers, and an incredible group of people. As I sit whether I am playing or at rest, there are times a chill goes through my body because of the sounds and because of the message.”

Before every practice session, there is a prayer and a short message and a closing prayer afterwards. 

“This is an ecumenical group and everyone is involved to get the story of this cantada out to as many people as possible,” Loge said. 

Whether he’s playing the St. Regis Pep Band, the UM marching band, or the local Dixieland band the music he declared, “Just soothes my soul.”

As director Larson acknowledged, “The people that come together to put it together each year are the most rewarding for me. It has become a family of sorts for Shelly and I to reconnect with every time they all clamor to get back together and do the show again. We all spend around 50 hours or more together putting this music together every year that we put on this production. I usually spend around 20 hours preparing before the first show playing through the music on my piano and reliving memories as well as getting excited for the reunion with all of our friends and some new friends every year.”

With an early Easter this year, the group only had eight rehearsals before the final dress rehearsal this week. 

Larson stated, “The crew has pulled it together fast and we have lots of returning folks that just needed a review to get ready.”

The stunning and historical First Presbyterian Church in Missoula requested a year off from hosting, so it could be possible that the performance will be there again in the future. This year the Lamb of God is being in Missoula held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Bancroft Street on Friday March 29, and Saturday March 30, at 7 p.m. The event is free but seating is first come first served.

“It is so powerful to consider that over 70 people gather together every year and volunteer their time and talents to put together this amazing production," Larson said. "Many people that come and watch this production are amazed at the quality of the performance when they hear that we are all volunteers. You won't get a better Easter production for free that I know of in Montana.”